Holocaust Day - a day set aside to remember the 6 million Jews - including 1.5 million children - who were murdered by the Germans in World War II. It usually falls sometime in middle or late April. The Hebrew date, the 27th of Nissan, was chosen because it falls midway between the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which began on the first day of Passover, and Israeli Memorial Day. All places of entertainment are closed, but transportation runs as usual and shops are open. A televised state ceremony is held at Yad Vashem on the eve of Holocaust Day, and on the day itself, at exactly 10 a.m., a two-minute siren is sounded. Everything comes to a halt and a hush falls over the country as people stand at attention. Traffic stops and many drivers stand next to their cars until the wail of the siren dies down.
Inscribed on these towering rocks at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem, is a verse from Psalms: (78:6)
"That a future generation might know
Children yet to be born
And in turn tell their children."
Memorial Day - A day honoring Israeli soldiers who have died in the country's neverending wars - over 23,085 soldiers at last count...It is always the day before Independence Day - usually in May, but sometimes in late April. This is a national holiday, not a religious one. Shops are open (although many of them close early) and buses run. Banks and post offices work until noon. People usually work half a day. The ceremonies begin the night before, at 8 p.m., with a one-minute siren, during which the whole country stands at attention. The state ceremony is at the Western Wall plaza, where a torch is lit. On the day itself, the official event is held at the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem, with local ceremonies around the country. At 11 a.m, a siren is heard again, and people stop what they are doing and bow their heads in a moment of silence. Traffic jams are par for the course as certain main roads leading to Mt. Herzl are closed off.
Jerusalem Day celebrates the reunification of Israel's capital city on the 28th of Iyar, which comes out sometime between late May and early June. For 19 years, east and west Jerusalem were divided by walls and barbed wire. Jews were denied access to the eastern part of the city, which was under Jordanian rule. Synagogues and cemeteries were destroyed and the area around the Western Wall was turned into a garbage dump. The Israel Defense Forces recaptured the city on the 3rd day of the Six-Day War in June 1967, and 20 days later, the Knesset (Israeli parliament) declared the two parts of the city officially reunited.
Jerusalem Day is celebrated by festive ceremonies (the main event is on Ammunition Hil) and a downtown parade with dancers, music, floats and delegations from all over the world - Jews and non-Jews. People line the streets to clap the marchers on. This, of course, produces a major traffic jam near the center of town and the Old City...
There are usually free walking tours, and people make "pilgrimages" to Jerusalem from all over the country. Synagogues hold special prayers.
TU BISHVAT: 15th of Shvat, Arbor Day , is the "birthday of the trees," usually celebrated in February. Again, this is not a Sabbath-like holiday, so everything is open. The day is celebrated by planting trees. Schoolchildren usually go on outdoor hikes that day and plant saplings. The JNF (Jewish National Fund) sponsors tree-planting ceremonies, also for tourists. Another custom is eating dried fruits and nuts, especially almonds because the almond tree flowers around Tu Bishvat - although the weather is cold and sometimes even snowy (in Jerusalem, at any rate). They grow wild in Israel, and you can see them out in the fields, with their light-pink to white blossoms. Keep your eyes open on the way to Jerusalem in February and March. There are lots of them along the highway.
Israel Independence Day, celebrated on the 5th of Iyar (usually in May, but could come out at the end of April) marking the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. The celebration begins at 8.p.m. the night before with an official torch-lighting ceremony on Mt. Herzl in a sharp transition from a solemn day of remembering fallen soldiers to a joyous national birthday bash. People head out to the streets, which are decorated with flags and colored lights. Most cities hold special events in parks and the downtown areas, with music blaring over loudspeakers, singers, folkdancing and fireworks. The kids have fun doing annoying things like spraying people with cans of foam or knocking them over the head with squeaky plastic hammers...The partying can go on until the wee hours of the morning. On Independence Day itself, picnics and barbecues ("mangal") in the great outdoors have become traditional. Other special events are the International Bible Contest and the Israel Prize ceremony, both televised. Shops and businesses are closed but the buses run (schedules may be different).
Though most of the residents of Mea-Shearim speak Hebrew, the most radical sects speak only Yiddish, a German-Jewish language, in their daily lives. They refuse to speak Hebrew, one of the official languages of Israel. They view it as a sacred tongue, only for prayer and religion learning. Many people have the idea that Yiddish is spoken only by old people and even there are some that think that Yiddish is a dead language, but in Mea-Shearim and nearby places you can hear children speaking this singular language that survived the Holocaust.
The Haram ash-Sharif (former Temple Mount to the Jews, dating back to Solomon's Temple) is considered a sacred area to the Muslims, and you'll see evidence of this all around you. It's a peaceful feeling inside here, and you'll probably see Muslims at the water area where Islamic rules dictate that one must wash one's feet before entering a place of holy worship such as a mosque. You'll see a lot of students, both men and women, studying and talking under the trees and on the grounds around here.
When we pass by some of the house in Jerusalem we noticed that the door and some part of the wall was painted with the picture of the Kaaba. Our guide Dawood explained that anyone who has been to Mecca to do their Hajj, Their house would be painted that way because it is an honored for them.
In the Haredi (Jewish religious orthodox) neighborhoods of Jerusalem you may come across a blue container, such as the one in the photo. If you think it's a recycling bin you are wrong. This container is for Genizah.
In the Jewish religion one should not throw away (or burn, or shred) any religious book, or for that matter any article (even a secular one) containing the name of God. What do you do with all the worn out prayer books, tefilin scrolls or mezuzah scrolls? They go to Genizah! At first they may be stored in a special store-room in a synagogue, but in the end they are buried in a Jewish cemetery.
You can find some original stickers while walking the streets of the Haredi (Jewish orthodox) neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
The sticker in the photo says: "Modest clothing = Success in Life".
And in smaller print: "Why is it pleasnt in winter? Because clothes are modest!" (It rhymes in Hebrew).
Another pearl in small print on the same sticker: "Modest clothing will prevent terrorist attacks".
How reassuring for a believer...
None of the communities controls the main entrance. In 1192, Saladin assigned responsibility for it to two neighboring Muslim families. The Joudeh were entrusted with the key, and the Nusseibeh, who had been the custodians of the church since the days of Caliph Omar in 637, retained the position of keeping the door. This arrangement has persisted into modern times. Twice each day, a Joudeh family member brings the key to the door, which is locked and unlocked by a Nusseibeh.
Since the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in the seventh century, the Sunni Muslim family has held the keys of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This arrangement emerged during the days of the second Muslim caliph, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, who hoped to avoid clashes among rival Christian dominations for control over the church. Although symbolic, the arrangement has provided the Nusseibeh family a visible role in Christian activities in Jerusalem, which include pilgrimages and visits by Western Christians.
When you go to the Wall, should wear shirt that covers your shoulders and upper arms and skirt that no shorter above the knees. If not, someone at the entrace will give you a big scarf. Like what I had in the picture. My skirt wasn't too short so it was ok ;)
There are many Christian pilgrims who come to Jerusalem during the all year and especially during some religeious events taking place all around the Christian quarter of the city or out side the old town. I took a photo of the hands of two monks meeting after not seeing each other after long time.
The Western Wall (in Hebrew Ha'kotel Ha'ma'aravi) is a holy place for the jewish people and there is a custom to come to the place and pray for god and put a note with a wish between the rocks.
Another custom is to make a bar-mitzva in the place for young jewish boys when they arrive 13.
The Bedouins touch a new bride as they believe she has much power on her wedding day and want her to bless them. We were not aware of the custom, so it was rather frightening to have all these women grabbing at my new daughter-in-law. At first I thought they were trying to take the pearls off her wedding dress. They also yelled an unexpected war cry that sent shiveres up my spine -- that must be more of their custom.